May 2014 Print

Church & World


The Vatican Library to Digitize Its Archives

The digitization of the Vatican Library’s manuscripts will accelerate thanks to the agreement signed at the Vatican with the Japanese company NTT Data, on March 20, 2014. Bishop Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Apostolic Library of the Vatican, added that 6,800 works have already been digitized, and that some are available on the library’s website. But this agreement, in a preliminary 4-year phase, will allow 3,000 more manuscripts to be scanned and archived with the help of high-precision material by a team of about thirty people. In the end, the Vatican Library aims at digitally archiving 82,000 manuscripts that will then be made available on its website, in order to allow researchers to work without having to travel to the originals.

The cost of the NTT Data project is estimated at about 18 million euros and should be partially covered by a donations campaign. The Japanese company, whose reputation will benefit from this partnership with the Vatican, will offer the services of several of its specialists free of charge.

The Apostolic Library of the Vatican is one of the oldest libraries in the world, having been opened to the public in the middle of the 15th century by Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455), and then institutionalized in 1475 by Sixtus IV (1471-1484). It has nearly 1.6 million ancient and modern works, 8,300 of which were printed in the period between the beginning of printing in the Western world, around 1450, and the end of the first century of typography, before 1501. Its inventory includes several dozen parchments, over 150,000 manuscripts and archived documents, 100,000 printed documents and incisions, 300,000 coins and medallions and 20,000 works of art.

(Sources: Apic/I.Media/VIS – DICI, No. 295, April 4, 2014)

Reactions to John XXIII’s and John Paul II’s Canonizations

A crowd of 7 million, then 3 million pilgrims was expected for John XXIII’s and John Paul II’s canonization ceremony in Rome; in the end, there were 800,000 pilgrims there on April 27, 2014.

To show that it was indeed Vatican II that was being canonized in the person of the man who summoned the Council in 1962, John XXIII’s feast day was set on October 11, the day of the Council’s opening; John Paul II’s feast day is on the day of the inauguration Mass of his pontificate, October 22, 1978.

On April 22, 2014, while severely criticizing Bishop Bernard Fellay’s latest Letter to Friends and Benefactors (see DICI, May 25, 2014), Maurice Page, editor-in-chief of the agency Apic, declared: “Canonizing John XXIII and John Paul II means canonizing Vatican II, writes Bishop Fellay. We could not agree more. Vatican II brought to the Roman Church a decisive progress: religious freedom, ecumenism, collegiality of the bishops, human rights, liturgical reforms, a reading of the ‘signs of the times.’ ”

In listing the “decisive progress”—according to him—brought about by the Council, Mr. Page forgot to mention interreligious dialogue. But the World Jewish Congress (WJC) did not forget it, and its president Ronald Lauder, pointed out the “contribution of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II,” who played an important part in improving the relations between Jews and Catholics and in “vanquishing anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church.” The WJC recalled: John XXIII summoned Vatican Council II, whose declaration Nostra Aetate served as a foundation for Judeo-Christian dialogue; under this impulse Israel and the Holy See undertook to create diplomatic relations with each other. As for John Paul II, he was the first pope to visit a synagogue; during his long pontificate, he was behind numerous interreligious initiatives and paid particular attention to Judaism; in 2000, he officially begged forgiveness for the Catholic Church’s faults and historical errors over the last two millennia.

While refraining from making the slightest intrusion into the domain of Catholicism, Ronald Lauder could not help expressing his gratitude for this double canonization: “While the canonization of these two men is an internal event of the Church and has nothing to do with interreligious dialogue, we rejoice with the millions of Catholics in Rome and everywhere in the world who are celebrating this event.”

In order to understand more clearly the intention behind this emphatic homage, allow us to recall that the World Jewish Congress represents the Jewish communities of almost 100 countries all over the world, and that it was founded in 1936, in Geneva, to defend in particular the Jewish interests in the face of governments and organizations.

Less optimistic, because better informed than many journalists, historian Roberto de Mattei declared on April 29, to the Catholic Family News which asked him “But you, do you maintain that the last Popes are not saints?”: “Allow me to give my opinion on the pope that I know better as an historian, John XXIII. After studying Vatican Council II, I looked more deeply into his biography and consulted the acts of his beatification process. When the Church canonizes a soul, she not only wants to be sure that the deceased is in heavenly glory, but she also offers him to us as a model of heroic virtue. It can be a religious, a parish priest, a perfect father of a family, and so on. In the case of a pope, in order to be considered a saint, he has to have exercised heroic virtue in accomplishing his mission as sovereign pontiff, as was the case, for example, with St. Pius V or St. Pius X. As far as John XXIII is concerned, I hold the well thought-out conviction that his pontificate worked an objective damage in the Church, and that it is therefore impossible to speak of sanctity on his account. A man who knew what he was talking about in matters of sanctity, the Dominican Father Innocenzo Colosio, considered to be one of the greatest spirituality historians of modern times, said so before me in a famous article published in the Rivista di Ascetica e Mistica (Journal of Ascetic and Mystical Theology).”

In any case, less than 15 days after this double canonization, on May 9, Pope Francis authorized the promulgation of the decree recognizing a miracle attributed to Paul VI’s intercession, when he received Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. And the Holy See’s press agency has announced the date of the beatification: October 19, at the closing of the first Bishops’ Synod on the Family. According to the agency I.Media, the pope who concluded Vatican Council II could be canonized the following year, since Pope Francis could dispense Paul VI from a second miracle, as he did for John XXIII, and allow thus his canonization in 2015, just 50 years after the closing of Vatican II.

Faced with these rapid canonizations, historian Philippe Chenaux asked in La Croix on May 12: “Are all the popes of the 20th century going to be canonized?” The Remnant had already given the answer on April 15: “But Pius XII still must wait!”

(Sources: La Croix/I.Media/Apic/The Remnant/CFN – DICI, No. 296, May 16, 2014)

Syria: Facing the Country’s Destruction

Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, aged 75, who lived in the martyred town of Homs, was assassinated on the morning of April 7, per an announcement by Fr. Alex Basili, Provincial of the Jesuits for the Middle East and the Maghreb.  Father Van der Lugt was executed by two bullets to the head in front of the Jesuit residence in Homs, in the district of Boustan al-Diwan, which is held by the rebels.

Fr. Van der Lugt had arrived in Syria in 1966.  During the three years of the current war he lived in a monastery located in the ancient city of Homs, where for the last year and a half the situation had deteriorated terribly.  Several weeks ago Father Frans had launched an appeal by means of a video on YouTube. “The biggest problem is hunger, because the people cannot find anything to eat,” he said in his appeal. “All of us, both Muslims and Christians, are living in difficult, painful conditions; we are suffering a lot but especially from hunger,” the Dutch religious stressed. “It is impossible to continue like this.  We need genuine aid, and our problems have to be taken into account. We have been shut in for a year and a half,” he declared.

The religious had often denounced the lack of medication, foodstuffs, and assistance for the besieged civilians, insisting that it was urgent to reach an agreement so as to be able to intervene on behalf of sick, exhausted, and starving civilians. He declared to the French news agency AFP last February: “We have very, very little to eat. The people in the street have gaunt, jaundiced faces....There is a famine here, but the people also thirst for a normal life. A human being is not merely a stomach; he has a heart, too, and the people need to see their loved ones,” he explained.

Whereas the Syrian people continue to endure sufferings and incalculable losses, archeological sites are the object of systematic pillaging, and trafficking in cultural goods has reached unprecedented proportions, according to a communiqué by three members of the U.N. and UNESCO. “According to some alarming reports, the Syrian heritage is deliberately being targeted for ideological reasons…by extremist groups determined to obliterate these unique traces of the rich cultural diversity of Syria….Not one stratum of Syrian culture—pre-Christian, Christian, Islamic—has been spared.”

The Syrian ambassador in Russia, Riad Haddad, declared on March 26 that 98 Christian churches and 1,900 mosques had been destroyed, damaged or pillaged since the start of the conflict in Syria. To these statistics it is necessary to add 1,600 schools and 60 percent of the hospitals, he explained.

(Sources:  Apic/UNorg/Interfax/fides/radiovatican/AFP – DICI, No. 295, April 25, 2014)

Canada: Inhabitants of Quebec Are Less and Less Catholic

The chapel of Tadoussac in Quebec, called Indian Chapel, is one of the oldest wooden churches in North America. The first construction was in 1615.

According to a poll taken by the French-speaking Center for Research on Public Opinion (CROP) for Radio-Canada, Church membership has sharply decreased among inhabitants of Quebec. The poll is entitled “Do Quebeckers have No Religion?” The results of it, which were published on March 30 in the radio program “Second Look,” show that fewer than 60 percent of Quebeckers still call themselves Catholic. In 2001, however, they made up 83 percent of the population of Quebec. Today 82 percent declare that they never go to church except on special occasions such as funerals, baptisms, Easter, Christmas, or weddings. For only 46 percent of those polled, Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, whereas for the others he is “an ordinary man” (24%), “a prophet” (14%), “a philosopher” (10%), an enlightened man” (7%).

Furthermore, 58 percent of the individuals polled think that religion is “not important or not very important” in their life. As for the Catholic respondents, only 32 percent say that they are Catholics because they have faith, and only 40 percent of them speak “regularly” or “occasionally” about religion to their children.

During an interview by the website on March 28, Martin Meunier, a sociologist of religions at the University of Ottawa, said that Quebeckers “used to be Catholics and now are disaffiliating themselves from that institution.” He goes on to say: “Just as quickly, we see that we have entered into a new phase.”

(Sources:  Apic/Radio-Canada – DICI, No. 295, April 25, 2014)